Last week, Washington University’s Student Life newspaper published an op-ed arguing that conservative ideologies should not be considered equally to other principles in an academic setting. In response, conservatives and liberal “defenders of free speech” alike decried this as intolerance, enraged that conservatives might not feel welcome on campus. This whole controversy has needlessly centered whiteness and the most privileged individuals on this campus. However, this controversy is not about white people; it is about the rights of marginalized communities and their allies on Washington University’s campus, and whether or not we are free to resist both explicit and implicit ideologies of white supremacy without being forced to provide space for them.
Let’s examine the ideological implications of what many conservatives and liberals want Wash U to be. This debate centers on a single main point: The right for marginalized communities (and our allies) to resist forced re-litigation of our collective humanity in the name of “Creating an environment in which different viewpoints can be expressed” and subsequently, the right of our communities to not be forced to welcome those who express ideologies invested in maintaining stark inequalities. Unfortunately, some conservatives and so-called liberals oppose these rights. Extending their critiques to their logical conclusion, it is clear they prefer a Washington University where marginalized communities are forced to entertain ideologies that deny their basic humanity, rather than letting academia be a space where disproven ideas are discarded.
After the initial article was published, right-wing trolls published the link to Reddit, and since then, an article in the Daily Wire spread the story outside of Washington University. This led to vicious online harassment of the author. To make matters worse, the leader of Washington University’s college republicans appeared on an interview with Fox and Friends to discuss the “controversy” with the full knowledge that this would bring further harassment to the author and fellow Washington University student. How ironic that conservatives are able to claim they are victims of bullying, while simultaneously utilizing the power of a national platform to incite harassment against those that disagree!
This makes the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, Lori White’s response so egregious, noxious, and out of touch with the reality of marginalized students. Choosing to respond while describing this choice as “rare” speaks volumes to the priorities of not just the vice-chancellor but also the university. I have been a student at Washington University since 2013 and have seen a myriad of racist events on campus from a viral offensive Halloween costume to racist Yik Yak posts made by fellow students calling black people thugs and animals, to pro-Israel students making borderline genocidal arguments about Palestinians.
Instead of publishing pieces guaranteeing the safety of marginalized communities on campus in response to racist incidents, the vice chancellor chose this specific occasion to use her institutional clout to defend conservative ideals, thus positioning herself on the same side as the conservative mob targeting the original author. This speaks volumes, yet should not be surprising. Washington University as an institution does not care about marginalized people, because it cannot care about marginalized communities. The university cannot care about marginalized communities because it was never made for us. The university, like other institutions has roots in white supremacy, the patriarchy, capitalism and other interlocking systems of oppression. One look at the ideology within the Washington University administration and the Board of Trustees quickly confirms as much.
There is an important lesson popularized by commentary surrounding the upcoming 2020 Democratic primary campaigns of Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and is summarized by the following phrase: “skinfolk ain’t yo kinfolk”. Essentially, this means that just because someone shares your skin color, it does not necessarily mean that they are working for your best interests. Publishing a letter to the editor essentially demanding marginalized communities play a role in “Creating an environment in which different viewpoints can be expressed” for harmful ideologies and describing this process as “fundamental” raises questions of what rights marginalized communities have at Washington University and the rights individuals and groups would like to curb. It also raises serious questions to the judgment, competency and legitimacy of the current vice-chancellor of student affairs.
Pressuring marginalized communities to provide special accommodations for ideologies opposing liberation is a cruel and twisted perversion of Washington University’s Mission Statement to “enhance the lives and livelihoods of students” and its goals to “judge ourselves by the most exacting standards”. Ironically, Washington University is advertising its annual “Day of Discovery, Dialogue, and Action”; however, the “dialogue” Washington University is interested in is mandatory conversations of “tolerance” for racist ideas. This is what I propose: If you are a member or an ally of any marginalized community, take a stand by refusing to attend Washington University’s Day of Diversity, Dialogue, and Action. But that is just the bare minimum; we must make our voice heard by moving past inaction. If you want to take a stand against the way the university disregards marginalized students, reach out to me. This event is window-dressing the university’s willingness to disregard issues key to marginalized communities, and as a result is illegitimate. The university depends on students of color, and by not being party to this event; this will send a direct message to the university that they can no longer take students of color for granted. Let’s work towards building a better future for this school.